Back from The Ranch....

I just completed a week as a presenter at the remarkable destination spa Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California.  Apart from the obvious benefits of early morning hikes up the mountain, spectacular healthy cuisine, beautiful surroundings, wonderful guests and the overall great vibe of the place, it was a very gratifying week in terms of the teaching. I merged content from my workshops The Good Eye and The Zen of Seeing. As it’s a weekly program focusing on well being—physical and mental—the big tagline was “Use your iphone to tune in rather than tune out.”

My students ranged from experienced professional photographers to those having little or no experience, but wanting to improve their photographic eye shooting with their iphones. It was a challenging format to work with—only four presentations each lasting forty five minutes, as opposed to the standard weeklong workshop offering opportunities for assignments, exercises and critiques. In response to my usual performance anxiety before teaching any workshop, my friends were thinking I was nuts, as it was only a total of 3 hours to prepare for as opposed to 30.

It’s common knowledge in creative communities that limitations often create more infinite possibilities—hence my challenge. And then there was the issue of how to really embed any significant learning so as to add value in such a small amount of time—how to ignite the spark of refreshed ‘seeing’? How to shift perspectives? It was a great exercise with an unexpected result. I learned there is much to be said for having to hone communication of certain aspects of visual discernment and concepts about aesthetics down to their essence—a real back-to-basics approach...that still resonates with more experienced photographers. What’s most important in the dialogue; what to leave in, what to take out?

Somehow, by honing in on the most quintessential aspects of seeing, beauty, and photographic vision; a more universal language emerged, bridging all experience levels in the group. We weren’t just talking about how to take a great photograph, we were re-learning how to see, how to create great imagery by taking ‘subject’ and ‘outcome’ out of the equation and focusing more on the process of SEEING itself. Much of the time we weren’t talking about photography at all; rather, how the mind works in relation to seeing, and how it can be such an enlivening and expanding practice to educate our eye in this way; to see beauty everywhere and in everything—very often in the form of abstraction. It’s about re-framing our vision so as to open up to endless possibilities in front of us always, but often overlooked—to see the ART in everything around us, all the time. There was tremendous synergy with other presenters who were speaking about managing stress in our lives and mindfulness practices--the need to re-frame our thinking.

The shorter time frame was a wonderful opportunity to see a beautiful structure emerge after years of pondering the best way to combine these ideas. Ironically, through the distillation process of the two workshops, normally both week long, we went deeper into the connections between the quality our our seeing and how it affects our day to day lives. The results were palpable.

 A big Thank You and shout out to all my co-conspirators, who apart from making some serious strides in their photography, made it a very enlivening….and eye opening week:) EW

 

elizabeth watt

Elizabeth has been recognized as one of the industry’s top still life and food photographers for over 20 years. She studied photography at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With an extensive technical background, Elizabeth draws her inspiration from painting, collage, sculpture and nature.  Her commercial work has a distinctly artistic focus. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines such as Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Martha Stewart Living, Body and Soul, Town and Country, O Magazine, Fortune Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. Her commercial clients have included Campbell’s, Proctor & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, Pepperidge Farms, Kraft,  General Mills,  Bath and Bodyworks, American Express, Neiman Marcus and Rosewood Resorts. She has many award winning book covers to her credit, and countless cookbooks, and has been featured in both Graphis and Communication Arts Magazines.

 

Elizabeth also enjoys teaching Photography and Creative Process both in academia and the corporate world. She has been an adjunct professor of photography at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and a guest lecturer at The School of Visual Arts and Parsons in NYC, as well as running workshops and seminars at various locations around the country.

 

Elizabeth blogs on the subjects of creativity, seeing, and photography at www.create-shift.com/blog. After completing an executive coaching certificate through NYU's School of Leadership and Human Capital Management, Elizabeth also helps people shift their mindsets and create habits to support creative output. More of this work can be seen at www.create-shift.com.

In addition to photography, Elizabeth is currently working on a book on how to leverage the creative mindset in the service of everyday productivity. She currently lives in San Miguel de Allende

A Simple Camera

Now that Fujifilm has released the X100F, an updated version of their carry-anywhere, photograph-anything-other-than-wildlife-from-a-distance digital rangefinder-style camera, I decided that it wasn't too late to offer my opinion of its predecessor, the joy-inducing X100T (even if I have had it for two years). 

I recognize that cameras are machines, inanimate complex tools designed to serve the whims of photographers, and that perhaps it isn't right to suggest that such a device might have a personality. The idea of the camera's personality emerges from its traditional design and the layout of its controls, how it renders images, and how it operates in the field. When someone unfamiliar with Fuji cameras asks me about the X100T, the consistent question is whether it is a vintage 35mm film-shooting rangefinder. I respond that it's an advanced digital camera with cutting edge design, and that I haven't been as satisfied with a camera since the mid-90's, when my standard kit was two Nikon F3HP SLR's with 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm manual focus lenses. 

Some camera review readers may find that statement puzzling, but this camera encourages a simpler style of shooting that does the most important thing. Used with thought and consideration, the X100T can make you a better photographer. I am convinced it has done that for me. The comparison with the Nikon F3HP comes to this point- I started my career using those sturdy, simple cameras (when I bought both bodies and and the aforementioned lenses everything was already fairly old and well-used), and my work evolved rapidly. The evolution was  due to concentrated effort, excitement about new adventures and the infinite possibilities of photography, but also the luxurious feeling of a reliable camera that essentially disappeared while taking taking pictures.

fujix100t-b

To me, basic well-designed controls laid out in a way that enables their use to become intuitive is the key to a good camera. Perhaps I am a Luddite, but working with Canon and Nikon digital SLRs and their brethren always left me cold, longing for the large and bright viewfinder of the Nikon F3HP. Reverting to using vintage cameras and shooting film for work wasn't an option, but so much of the joy of taking a photo was vanishing- blotted out by the need to perform gymnastics while pressing intricate combinations of buttons, navigating Byzantine menus, and the feeling I was holding a computerized brick to my eye.

Simplicity in technique and equipment was drilled into me early in my career from studying the books of Cartier-Bresson, who created most of his legendary body of work with one Leica rangefinder and a 50mm lens. Limiting the amount of gear to carry gives the freedom to concentrate on your subject, forces you to think creatively within the limitations of your tools, and gives you the agility to embrace the physical aspects of photography on the move. And after studying in 1994 with iconic war photographer James Nachtwey, who described using two cameras with 28mm and 35mm lenses, the power of the idea of simplicity with technique and equipment was confirmed. 

The X100T insists the photographer embrace limitations. The 23mm lens (equivalent to the field of view of a 35mm lens on an old-fashioned 35mm film camera) is built into the camera. You can't change the lens to a super wide angle or to a telephoto. To get closer to or farther away from your subject, you have to use a primitive form of zoom - your feet. You can buy a camera that has the ability to zoom from the ultra-wide to the extreme telephoto, but it won't necessarily make you a better photographer. Having a camera with those sorts of capabilities may be convenient, but convenience makes you lazy. You won't move as much, you won't think as much about your compositions, or how the light falls on your subject. You'll think about figuring out how your camera works, and you'll wonder at its technical complexity. Unfortunately that may also lead to photographing in such a way that excludes feeling or emotion from your pictures.

If you want to photograph people, whether as a street photographer or in a documentary situation as a reportage photographer, the X100T calls on you to confront any anxiety you might have of strangers - you have to get close to them to make interesting photos. The X100T is also so fast and quiet - silent, if you set it up that way - that many people won't even be aware that you have taken a picture. This silent performance doesn't disrupt the atmosphere where you're shooting. While any printed photograph is a representation of a moment in time, (an actual physical object that is separate and different from the moment itself), photographers working with daily life as their raw material want to make images that recreate the experience of being there  in the moment for their viewers. They want to transmit those uncorrupted candid glimpses into something that can be held, savored, and studied. I contend that the X100T with its simplicity, speed of operation, light weight, and reliability of performance helps me transmit those experiences through light into emotion and feeling. It gets out of the way, and it does its job. This camera makes me feel like a photographer again.

This all may be old news, but I celebrate the thought that the X100T brings photography back to the idea that content, narrative, and even poetry, are the most important things. You don't need 50 megapixels and a $4,000 camera body to make someone's heart sing. Many people intrigued by photography today have more interest in the technical capabilities of cameras, rather than in the power of an emotive photograph. It feels liberating to use this small camera to focus on aspects of photography that matter most. Photography can reflect life. It can reveal beauty in unexpected places. It can celebrate joy. It can show tragedy and pain. My partner in this process, the X100T, helps me share those things I see, and it reminds again and again how enjoyable this practice is, and how lucky I am to have lived a photographer's life.

SEEK Interviews: Q. Sakamaki

This is the second in an occasional series of interviews with SEEK instructors, our colleagues and friends, curators, photographers of all different kinds, our influences, and people who we think you might find interesting. Today we bring you SEEK instructor Q. Sakamaki, a New York City-based two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award who has published five books of his work. Q blends coverage of global events with his personal interpretation of how these events affect people's lives and psyches. We are planning a workshop in Mexico City this year which will feature Q teaching with his friend and colleague Spencer Platt. Follow Q's work on Instagram @qsakamaki - and read more about him on his bio page here: http://www.seekworkshops.com/q-sakamaki/ For now, please enjoy this email interview and two galleries of Q's work. The first is from his project, "China's Outer Lands":

 

SEEK: What is the most important thing when it comes to taking photos? 

QS: To catch emotion related to human dramas, or even to reveal what may be behind those dramas. Through photography, I would like to explore humanity — who we are and what is important or critical for us. Then, I would like to share the work as much as I can. 

SEEK: Can you tell us a little about your friendship with Spencer and how your teaching together will be an interesting experience for students? 

QS: We have known each other more than decade. Both of us cover international affairs, as well as domestic issues in the United States. We often encounter each other in hot spots, including conflict zones, such as Israel, Palestine, Sudan, and Greece (during the recent refugee crisis). We share information and exchange our own views in such places or in New York where both of us live. We share much common ground about humanity, journalism, and photography. However, our style is quite different, since he works for Getty Images as a wire type of a dynamic photographer, on the other hand, I work more likely aiming for magazines, especially for feature stories, often with fine-art like aesthetic images. So, teaching together with Spence will be very interesting for students, since they'll learn different perspectives to swim well in the very demanding seas of photo-documentary and photo-journalism. 

SEEK: You mentioned in your bio that you are combining elements of fine art with documentary photography with aspects of your identity. Can you elaborate on this idea? How does your identity come into play with your photography?

QS: First, any personal expression could be art. Photo-documentary should be so, though in the arena of non-fiction. Due to this nature, I would like to combine my documentary photography with fine art to make my photography grow more.

Second, for me, it is not enough to photograph the moment as it is. Although, again, there is no fabrication and no bias in photo-journalism and photo-documentary, it is also equally, or ever more important to seek something behind the scenes captured in front of us — like something universal, for example, injustice or the human soul. Those have evolved in humanity throughout history, and are nearly always related to identity and belonging of people. However, unlike the general notion, identity and belonging are often changing — at least these are not perfectly definable. This has affected me as well - I moved from place to place many times in my childhood (often facing discrimination), and now I have lived in the United States much longer than I ever lived in Japan. Thus, to explore human dramas, combining with my own identity and belonging is very natural. And through such a process, I would like to figure out what humans are, and where we came from, and where we are heading.

SEEK: And you also mentioned that it could be possible to explore one's own future through photography. Will you tell us more about this idea?

QS: As I mentioned above, photography can be a process of seeking for universal values, since to take photos is to explore human dramas, even the motivations behind them. It also could become a means to figure out what humans are, as any human drama is related to the past, present, and future. So, photography can be a significant process to explore both where we humans came from and where we are heading.

tsunami photo workshops san miguel de allende mexico

SEEK: In your recent project, "Tojinbo: Suicide Cliffs," you've taken on a challenging and sensitive topic. A few of the photos seem to have metaphorical elements. This appears to be an effective way to evoke a deeper meaning within an individual picture and to affect the overall body of work. How do you create a metaphor with a photo?

QS: Yes, that is right. I like metaphors in my photography and it could be very effective for not only an individual photo, but also for a whole work, since the world is not so simple, each subject has very complicated matters and elements around it, even though those are related to each other. So, for the creation of an individual photo, I nearly always look for elements that can be not only related to the theme of the story, but can also give deeper meanings and often evoke something haunted behind the story or scene.

SEEK: Many thanks to Q for sharing his thoughts and his photographs. Please visit www.qsakamaki.com for extended edits and many more bodies of work. We conclude this interview with a selection of photos from Q's coverage of the 2011 tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, both shortly after the event and his return one year later to photograph stories of survival.

The Found Artist

By Andrés Carnalla

As a photographer, walking around is a way to find stories. A few years ago, I was wandering my neighborhood, El Cardo, in San Miguel de Allende. I heard hammering inside the courtyard of a nearby house. As I got closer, a man called out to me to come in. His voice sounded as if he had been waiting a long time for someone to visit.

His name was Miguel Angel Luna. As we started talking, we discovered we had much in common. He was self-taught, and humbly told me about his art. He uses metal, wire, and natural pigments to create elaborate symbolic objects. We spent hours talking about his ideas and methods, and I was lucky that he had just started working on his piece "Tonantzin."

Tonantzin, “Our Sacred Mother,” in the indigenous language Nahuatl, symbolizes a connection to fertility and the earth. Many people consider her to be the same as the Virgin of Guadalupe, who the Catholic church views as a manifestation of the Virgin Mary, and has become as important a symbol of Mexico as the eagle on the flag. Together, Tonantzin and the Virgin of Guadalupe represent the emergence of Mexico as a nation born out of the conflicts between European and pre-Hispanic civilizations.

The next day I came back early in the morning to observe Miguel Angel's process. Each careful movement he made caused me to pause and admire how his passion for his work came to life through his hands. From the intricacy of his weaving, to the delicate way he cut a sheet of metal to shape a heart, I kept struggling to understand why so few people knew about him and his work. 

Editor's note- See more of Andrés Carnalla's photography at his website: http://www.andrescarnalla.com/